PORTAGE, MICHIGAN – President Joe Biden on Friday (Feb 19) slammed Donald Trump for failing to secure enough Covid-19 shots as he toured a Michigan facility where Pfizer is manufacturing its vaccine.
“My predecessor – as my mother would say, God love him – failed to order enough vaccines,” Biden said on Friday, repeating criticism he’s repeatedly made of his predecessor.
“Failed to mobilise the effort to administer the shots. Failed to set up vaccine centres.”
In remarks delivered at the facility, Biden sought to reassure the public that the shots are safe and described efforts by his administration to increase supplies and vaccination sites.
He also sought to rally support for his US$1.9 trillion (S$2.5 trillion) economic stimulus plan that he proposed in response to the pandemic.
The plant, in Portage, just outside Kalamazoo in south-west Michigan, is Pfizer’s largest manufacturing facility. There, the company’s coronavirus vaccine is formulated and filled into vials before being shipped for distribution.
Biden’s visit was just his second trip away from the East Coast since taking office last month, following a Tuesday appearance in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at a CNN town hall.
Last week, he toured the National Institutes of Health in Maryland, getting a first-hand look at federal research on the virus.
Since taking office, Biden has ordered an additional 100 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine, bringing the total to 300 million, which is enough for 150 million people. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines each require two doses.
The president said on Tuesday that Pfizer agreed to speed up shipments after Biden invoked the Defence Production Act, which enables the government to nationalise manufacturing in emergencies.
Unlike Moderna, Pfizer declined full participation in the government’s Operation Warp Speed vaccine-development programme under former president Donald Trump.
Biden has since scrapped that name.
Before Friday’s virtual meeting of the leaders of the Group of Seven nations, White House officials on Thursday said the US would immediately commit US$2 billion to the effort known as Covax, which aims to help lower-income countries with vaccines. Biden will pledge an additional US$2 billion through 2021 and 2022 on condition that other nations’ fulfil their commitments.
A third vaccine, from Johnson & Johnson, would require only one shot but the administration said on Wednesday that it sees its distribution starting out slowly once it is authorised by the FDA, which will likely happen within a few days of a Feb 26 meeting to consider the company’s application and clinical data.
Pfizer chief executive officer Albert Bourla introduced Biden, calling him a “great ally” who helped obtain materials to expand capacity.
Bourla said on Friday that the company will use more of its manufacturing capacity and work with new suppliers to step up production of the vaccine it developed with BioNTech.
Biden has regularly touted his administration’s progress accelerating vaccinations, and has encouraged any American with the opportunity to get a shot.
“I can’t tell you a date when this crisis will end but I can tell you we’re doing everything possible to have that day come sooner rather than later,” Biden said.
Despite the president’s criticism of Trump, Biden’s administration has made only modest changes to the previous administration’s vaccine plan.
The US has given about 1.58 million shots per day over the past week, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker, up from an average of roughly 900,000 per day in the week before Biden took office.
Supply is increasing as Pfizer and Moderna, the other company whose vaccine was granted emergency authorisation by the Food and Drug Administration, ramp up their production, as well as efforts led in part by the Biden administration to increase the number of people able to administer vaccines.
If the vaccine is authorised, the administration’s contract would be for 100 million doses by the end of June.
White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said on Wednesday that those deliveries would begin with just a few million doses and most distribution would be “back-end loaded.”
Biden’s most recent visit to Michigan was during the final stretch of his campaign, on Oct 31, when he and former president Barack Obama made joint appearances at rallies in Flint and Detroit.
He won the state by more than 154,000 votes, which amounted to a 50.6 per cent to 47.8 per cent victory over Trump.
Trump’s narrow 2016 win there, with a 0.23 per cent margin over Hillary Clinton, was the first Republican presidential victory in the state since that of George HW Bush in 1988.